The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo for September 29 is titled "Fall Nickname" and a quick scan of the clues quickly reveals that it's a riddle puzzle. I solve the grid methodically from top to bottom and left to right, so by the time I reach a part of the riddle many of the letters are already filled in and it's fun to try to guess the rest of the answer before I fill in more letters from the crosses. Today I was mostly successful at guessing what Frank had in mind, but it did get me into a little bit of trouble that I'll describe later on. One might guess that the title could have something to do with the Fall foliage which is just now turning magnificent in northern New England where I live, and that guess turns out to be correct as when the puzzle is complete we have this riddle and answer:
23a - WHAT DO PEOPLE CALL
29a - A NORTH CENTRAL REGION OF
47a - THE UNITED STATES EACH
67a - AUTUMN WHEN THE
80a - LEAVES ON ALL THE TREES
100a-TURN TO VARIOUS SHADES?
109a-DAKOTA MANY COLORS (insert rim shot here!)
I knew the answer had to be a pun based on a real thing but it took me a few seconds of saying it out loud to come up with "the coat of many colors" which is a real enough phrase but I don't think it will be all that familiar to a lot of solvers. It's origin is in the Bible and it's meaning (like so many things in the Bible) is the subject of some dispute. Rather then wade into that topic of discussion let me point out that "[The] Coat of Many Colors" is also the title of a popular old country song: (per wiki)" "Coat of Many Colors" is the title of a song written and recorded by American singer Dolly Parton, which she has described on numerous occasions as her favorite of the songs she has written." Let's go with that as the inspiration for the puzzle:
So, back to the puzzle. With a riddle puzzle the clues are no help in solving the answers but often I can guess a phrase from a few key letters provided by the crosswords. Today the first part of the riddle was nearly complete when I arrived at the clue and the rest of the riddle didn't present many problems until I arrived at 100a, where I had just enough letters in place to think it would start out as "turning" instead of "turn into" - that confused me for a while and it didn't help that 101d, where I had the incorrect letter in place, wanted a Spanish phrase. It all sorted itself out in the end but it surely made for a messy looking grid by the time I figured it all out.
In the end I finished with an error. I'm not a NASCAR fan so "Four-time Indy 500 winner" AJ FOYT (71a) was only vaguely familiar and I misremembered his name as Hoyt, and somehow I convinced my self that UNhILTERABLE could be an obscure word meaning "Too large to be strained, maybe" (60d) and I was prepared to complain that Frank was making up words again but mea culpa. I should also mention that it's an EVEN BET (51d - "50-50 gamble) that "Guesses at JFK" will be either ETA or ETd, so I considered AD Hoyt, too, but at least I guessed right on the initial.
There's not much to say about the non-theme fill. I noticed a plethora of proper names, some of them pretty obscure I think, and a couple of the cross one another is always problematic for me but they all filled themselves in from the crosswords so fair enough. I should point out that according to wiki "Nero's wife" (88d) (and also stepsister) is Claudia OCTAVIA so Frank cheated a little: "Claudia Octavia (Classical Latin: CLAVDIA•OCTAVIA) (late AD 39 or early AD 40 – 8 June AD 62) was an Empress of Rome. She was a great-niece of the Emperor Tiberius, paternal first cousin of the Emperor Caligula, daughter of the Emperor Claudius, and stepsister and first wife of the Emperor Nero." (I love learning stuff like that when I do the puzzle.)
In a strange bleed-over from yesterday's New York Times crossword, NEEDY (33d - Indigent) makes an appearance two days in a row. In the NYT it was clued as "Attention-seeking, say" and I never did get the answer - I went with "Nutsy" and stuck with it to the end, so I was glad to get it right today.
I had some wrong guesses that needed to be fixed:
- TIP ONE'S HAT TO (16d - Praise with a cap motion) started out as "a tip of the hat" which was almost right but wrong enough to mess up that whole section of the grid. It all started because I also had "Save" where STOW (15a - Lay away) should be and it all fit together so well.
- I initially had "bite" for NOSH (30d - Little snack) and "fORk" for GORE (36d - Spear) but those were fixed easily enough.
- Having "SucK UP" instead of SOAKUP (95d - Absorb) contributed to my problem seeing TURN INTO which I mentioned above. It was "Mr. Spock's pointy pair" of EARS (106a) that fixed that (and had I written it in when I filled in the cross-referenced clue "Use one's 106a" for HEAR at 56d I could have avoided the problem altogether).
This weeks random Roman Numeral is LIII (84d - Nero's 53). Say, it would have been really, really cool if Frank had clued 88d as "Nero's first" since we learned that Claudia Octavia was in fact his first wife. No, too arcane? Never mind.
You might have guessed that "In dire STRAITS" (95A) would cause me to get this CUED UP (119a - Advanced to the starting point, as a tape) for my musical sign-off:
See you next week!